This is a very iconic drive west of Melbourne, so I thought I would sign up for a tour as a 1-day extension of my work trip. It was a 12-hour long day, because it covered many 100’s of kilometres, with many stops. But it was worth it to see the beauty and diversity of the Australian country side. I really enjoyed it.
The thing that struck me, however, is that as beautiful as the scenery was, so much of it reminded me of places I had been, or even places at home on the Island. So odd as it may sound, it felt familiar to me, even thought I was 13000 km from home! Let me explain.
This stop was our first glimpse of the ocean. The town is a mecca for surfers and there is a large surfing competition held here yearly. I walked on to the beach and thought “I could be in Tofino”. A beautiful long sand beach, with surfers in the water, hoping for wave, even though the surf was not high. All that was missing were the happy e-bikers riding on the sand. In the picture below, the area on top of the cliff is where the judges sit and can watch activity on the beach on each side.
An hour later we arrived at the official start of the Great Ocean Road. It was started in 1919, as a means to employ veterans returning from WWI. The road opened in 1936, and now stretches 241 km along the southern coast of Australia. We drove about 200 km of it, and it was beautiful. The road twists and turns, and goes up and down, following the coast. I was lucky enough to have a seat on the water side of the small bus we were on, so I enjoyed some great views, especially when up high and looking down to the water from the cliffs. The water colour was my favourite teal green-blue, and the sea state was pretty calm, with just some waves breaking close to shore. There were several small towns along the road, all catering to vacationers and surfers, and some spectacular homes, many of which are AirBnBs, high on the hills, providing spectacular views, I’m sure.
Maits Rest Rainforest
We ventured inland a bit to visit this area. Driving there reminded me of Hwy 4 on the way to Cathedral Grove. The short walk through the forest was not dissimilar to walks we do at home. Lots of tall trees, albeit different species. The big tall ones were ash trees, many over 100’ tall. Many standing had started to be hollowed out by termite activity, and we saw several trees that had fallen, having their trunk hollowed out. Overall it was very lush, with very very large ferns everywhere as well.
From here we made our way through the countryside back to the water. This is farm country where flocks of sheep and herds of cattle can be see happily grazing on the rolling hills. Quite peaceful and idyllic!
The star of the show was the 12 Apostles, a series of limestone sea stacks. There were never 12 stacks, only 8, and one collapsed in 2005, leaving only seven now. Of course, more may form as erosion continues on the coast line. The view point is at the top of the cliffs. About 1 km down the road, there is ‘Gibsons Steps’ that can bring you down to the beach, but unfortunately we did not have time to do that. So we admired from above.
Loch Ard Gorge
This was named after the clipper Loch Ard, shipwrecked in 1878 after a 3-month voyage from England.
Of 54 passengers and crew, only two survived: Thomas Pearce and Eva Carmichael, only 19 years old. According to memorials at the site, Pearce was washed ashore, and rescued Carmichael from the water after hearing her cries for help. Pearce then climbed out of the gorge to raise the alarm to local farmers who quickly came to Carmichael’s rescue. Three months after the disaster, which claimed the lives of seven members of her family, Carmichael returned to Ireland. Pearce was hailed a hero, and died at the age of 49 and is buried in England.
The arch of the nearby Island Archway collapsed in June 2009. The feature now appears as two unconnected rock pillars which have since been officially named Tom and Eva after the two survivors of the Loch Ard wreck.
Another beautiful formation at this spot was the Razorback, and it was my favourite. The sharp edges and bumps are caused by erosion from sea spray. There was even a ‘hole’ eroded near the top. The waves channeling along the bottom carve the deep smooth grooves near the sea surface. As erosion continues, more blocks will break away. All these limestone formations reminded me of the time we spent on the Berlenga Islands, earlier this year in Portugal.
Seeing all the these shapes and learning of how they have changed over the years, made me realize again how powerful the forces of nature are, but they do provide such beauty to enjoy. The weather was perfect, the sights were gorgeous and even though it was a long drive I was glad to be able to see just a small bit of Australia.
Oh, I did see ONE koala. They sleep the majority of the day because they essentially get stoned eating the eucalyptus leaves. So the one we saw high in the branches was asleep of course. And I got to feed a King Parrot; that was fun! No kangaroos seen on this trip, but I did taste some in a restaurant and it was mighty fine. Honestly, in a blind taste test, I’m not sure I would have been able to distinguish it from beef.
So all in all, a really enjoyable day and a great way to prepare for the long journey home. And at time of writing, I’m happy to be home, even if the days are very very short, and the weather is a lot colder than Melbourne! This is home.